Elderly people are at increased risk of food-borne illness because as they age, their immune systems become weaker. In fact, the website for the Centers for Disease Control estimates that each year about 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from food-borne diseases. The most severe cases tend to occur in the very old.
The good news is that food poisoning can be prevented if you follow proper home food safety practices.
Ruth Frechman, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, spoke with AgingCare.com about home food safety for elderly people. "Since older adults are at particular risk for food-borne illness, good food safety habits are extremely crucial."
Ms. Frechman says three common cooking and food preparation mistakes can result in unsafe food and potential food poisoning.
Bacteria in raw meat and poultry juices can be spread to other foods, utensils and surfaces. . "To prevent cross-contamination, keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat foods and fresh vegetables," she says. "For example, use two cuttings boards: one strictly for raw meat, poultry and seafood; the other for ready-to-eat foods like breads and vegetables."
She recommends washing cutting boards thoroughly in hot soapy water after each use or placing them in the dishwasher. Use a bleach solution or other sanitizing solution and rinse with clean water. Always wash your hands after handling raw meat.
Leaving food out too long
Leaving food out too long at room temperature can cause bacteria to grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness. "Many people think it's okay to leave food sitting out for a few hours," Ms. Frechman says. "But that's a dangerous habit. Food should not be left out for more than two hours. And if it's over 90 degrees, like at an outdoor summer barbecue, food should not be out for more than one hour."
Its common knowledge that meat should be cooked to proper temperatures. However, most people don't know that even leftovers that were previously cooked should be re-heated to a certain temperature. Ms. Frechman says re-heating foods to the proper temperature can kill many harmful bacteria.
Leftovers should be re-heated to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. "Harmful bacteria are destroyed when food is cooked to proper temperatures," she says. "That's why a food thermometer comes in handy not only for preparing food, but also for re-heating."
How long it is safe to eat leftovers? Not as long as you would think, Ms. Frechman says. Chicken, fish and beef expire after three to four days in the refrigerator. To help seniors track if leftovers are still good, she recommends writing the date on the package of leftovers.
Seniors and their caregivers should take these preventive measures to avoid germs in food and contracting food poisoning. Pay attention to the foods that are eaten, how food is prepared, and properly maintain the food in the refrigerator, and you may avoid an illness that could cause great discomfort, weakening of the body or even death.